Avoidants want someone in the house—just not in the same room!
Expertly noted by Dr. Stan Tatkin throughout this blog from his publication: I Want You In The House, Just Not In My Room… Unless I Ask You: The Plight of The Avoidantly Attached Partner in Couples Therapy.
The other thing that’s a hallmark for an Avoidant is: if you are a therapist and you go on vacation the client feels relief. They don’t miss you. So you are gone for two weeks, what’s the problem?
It’s not that they don’t want anybody around. The ideal situation for an Avoidant is: somebody is in the house but not in the same room, so they have the experience of “somebody is around,” which is what their history usually was: they had a parent that was around, in the house somewhere, but not in contact with them, so they are comfortable with that.
Often Avoidants don’t recognize they need their partners until the partner actually leaves, through divorce, death, separation, illness, or something else. Then, when they realize nobody is in the house, that’s when the crisis hits. It’s then that a very deep depression can happen, because they actually want connection like anybody else. It’s their adaptation, which seems like they don’t want connection. The big beef I have with a lot of attachment writers is that sometimes they describe Avoidants as not wanting connection and that’s not true in my opinion. If you unpack it, there is a very deep longing for connection; they want it like everybody else, and there are certain things that are in the way.
The Dismissive Attitude of Avoidants
Sometimes in couples therapy, you have to take an Avoidant on that ride: “what if your partner actually left you, or what if your partner died?” You have to put that loss right in their face for them to feel the importance of the partner sometimes, because they dismiss it. Another name for Avoidant is “dismissive.” They have a dismissing style which is a re-enactment of what their parents did to them. They are doing it
sometimes not even realizing they’re doing it!!
In effect, you are trying to help reconnect to longing and you are trying to help them surface from auto-regulation. People that have only been able to take care of themselves by going into isolation or auto-regulation have a very big shift in the physiology and the nervous system towards shutting down – a removal of presence.
If you think of scuba diving, you just don’t dive in, like diving in a swimming pool – you go deep. You take time to adjust to the depth. You also can’t come up too fast because you get the bends.
So if you have an Avoidant in your life that you care about and they do love you, they just don’t know it—they are not very demonstrative. Having Avoidant Attachment does not mean someone doesn’t love you. They do love you, it’s just that the way they manage that, and, communication might be difficult for them. They do have a strong capacity for connection, it’s just that they have a lot of stuff around it.
Say you have an Avoidant partner, and they are on their computer and are deeply involved in it. You want to invite them to have an anniversary dinner or something so you say, “Honey, I want to take you to our favorite Italian restaurant.” Their first response would probably be gruff, and if you take it personally, you’ll feel repelled. You just say, “You know what? I know you are busy with your computer. I am wondering if in the next 10, 15, 20 minutes, or when you are ready to surface from that, you could meet me in the living room by the door so we can go have a good time at the restaurant.” If you let them transition, then they’ll buy in and talk to you. “Okay, I had my transition, now I am here, I am ready for the restaurant, let’s go,” and they can have a good time with you. If you don’t give them that time, then you get this kind of grumpy growl. They need that time, and they can’t do it fast.
This blog was written from Module 2.2 – Avoidant and Needs Corrective Strategies: “Kind Eyes” Exercise.